Israelis vote in general elections to end political stalemate

Former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu will try to stage a comeback in the election.

Jerusalem: Israelis started voting on Tuesday in the general elections, the fifth in less than four years, to break the political stalemate that has paralysed the country.

Polls will close at 10 pm but official results are not expected until Wednesday. The process of forming the government could drag on for weeks.

Former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu will try to stage a comeback in the election.

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The prospect of the next government hinges around two factors – the level of right-wing polarisation, not necessarily in favour of veteran politician Netanyahu but for him to lead the coalition, and the extent of voter apathy, surprisingly, in the Arab sector.

Netanyahu, 73, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister and among one of the most polarising ones whose leadership plagued by charges of graft has been at the centre of current instability, is looking to make a comeback which would largely depend on both these factors.

Israel has a parliamentary system made up of several parties none of which have ever received enough votes on their own to secure a majority of seats in the 120-member parliament. That means parties must team up to form coalitions and reach the 61 seats needed to form a ruling government.

The last four elections in Israel ended in an indecisive mandate, at times alliances falling short by just one vote in the Knesset. The results of Tuesday’s vote are expected to be out by Wednesday.

It will be the first time since 2009 when Netanyahu will be running into the polls not as the prime minister.

He hopes that the anti-incumbency factor also boosts his prospects of a return given that the loosely garnered alliance of ideologically divergent political parties, built around opposition to his political leadership, failed to survive for long.

Netanyahu has left no stone unturned to ensure that right-wing votes “do not go waste” as per Israeli election laws where political parties have to cross the 3.25 per cent votes threshold, even personally getting involved in closing ‘deals’ between warring right-wing factions over seat allotment.

The right-wing seems to have benefitted from these efforts with opinion polls putting it tantalisingly close to a majority, but not clearly, even at the expense of

Netanyahu’s Likud party dropping in number of seats.

Current Prime Minister Yair Lapid is hoping his centrist Yesh Atid party will come in a strong second place.

Defence Minister Benny Gantz is aiming for a strong showing at the head of a new party called National Unity.

The final polls suggest that Netanyahu’s party and its potential allies are hovering right around the knife edge number of 60 seats.

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